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Black & Decker to pay $1.6M for tardy defect reports

Black & Decker agreed to pay a $1.58 million penalty to settle allegations the company purposely didn't report safety issues with its cordless electric lawnmowers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The settlement, in which the company admits no wrongdoing, prompted an almost-unheard-of rebuke from the head of the CPSC, calling into question Black & Decker's safety record and willingness to look out for its customers. This is the fifth time in the past 19 years that the company has been penalized for failure to report product defects and safety problems as required under federal law, the CPSC said.

"Black & Decker's persistent inability to follow these vital product safety reporting laws calls into question their commitment to the safety of their customers," CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye said in a statement. "They have a lot of work to do to earn back the public's trust."

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer said the company "put profits over safety."

Black & Decker maintained the company "takes its obligations concerning product safety very seriously."

In a statement, the company said: "In this case, Black & Decker itself brought this issue to the attention of the CPSC and voluntarily recalled the product when asked to do so. We believe that at all times, Black & Decker acted in good faith and did not violate any provisions of the Consumer Product Safety Act...This dispute represents an honest disagreement over the reporting requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Act."

Companies are required under federal law to promptly report -- generally within 24 hours -- safety problems with their products to the CPSC. The agency can then determine whether some action is needed, such as a recall to either remove the product from the market or make a repair or some other remedy.

In this case, Black & Decker sold cordless mowers under its name brand and Sears' Craftsman brand from 1995 until 2006. As early as 1998, the CPSC said, Black & Decker received reports from customers that the lawnmowers would continue to run after they were supposed to stop -- even after the safety key had been removed.

Federal law requires a walk-behind mower's blades to stop when the handle is released. After the first round of complaints, the CPSC said, the company started to hear about the lawnmowers restarting after they were stopped and the safety key was gone.

It wasn't until 2009 that Black & Decker reported the safety issues and not until the following year that it issued a recall.

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